You’ve probably seen the stories about the UN Agency which allegedly had amongst its employees Hamas operatives who directly participated in the October 7th massacres in southern Israel. The story is both more and less than it seems. The background helps illuminate this as well as much of what we’ve seen over the last three months.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was founded in 1949 to administer refugee camps for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had either fled the fighting or were driven out by the Israeli military during both phases of the Israeli War of Independence, what Palestinians call The Nakba. (Most of this happened during the first phase of the war.) There were camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Those camps are still there 75 years later. “Camps” is a misnomer. Over time permanent buildings replaced temporary structures and tents. Schools, hospitals, civic buildings and businesses grew up. They are more like towns, or districts of towns. The vast majority of residents of the camps are third and fourth generation descendants of the original refugees of 1947-48. Under UNRWA’s framework they are also refugees. UNRWA still plays a central role administering these communities — running schools, hospitals, various civil services.